Starting out as a Kickstarter project last year, My Other Me: A Film About Cosplayers made it’s U.S. premiere last night at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival
Director John Laner, a self-proclaimed geek, is a newcomer to the scene, both the cosplay scene and the documentary film scene, with only one other film under his belt – a 2010 documentary called Wastings and Pain, and up-close look that the poverty-stricken Downtown East neighborhood of Vancouver.
In his nerdy new documentary, Laner takes a look at another marginal group – cosplayers.
Many geeky activities get tagged as escapism. And indeed it is often the case that we read about demon warlords in order to escape our own demons and wars, or we slay virtual dragons because we can’t fight the real fiery circumstances in our real lives. But for some the fantasy can be far truer than reality. Passionate cosplayers spend hours before a convention applying makeup and untangling wigs, and before that they dedicate months to design, needlework, and sculpting, toiling away like mad scientists in order to bring the characters of their fantasies to life .
For people like Lucas (aka TwinFools), Danae (aka Rifa), and Lilly (aka SecretAttire), the dedicated cosplayers that My Other Me follows through a year of conventions, cosplay is more than just a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.
Over the course of the film we get an intimate view of these three cosplayers lives, from the hours Danae commits to designing the costumes that she scrapes a living from, to Lilly’s anxiety at her first con, to Lucas’s physical struggles through hormone therapy and Male-to-Female surgery.
At first you think you’ve got them pegged; it seems obvious why they cosplay – Lilly is shy, Danae is worried about making a living, Lucas struggles with his trans identity. But along the way the costumes gradually strip away to reveal that cosplay isn’t just an escape for these youths; perhaps it began as a fantasy land, but cosplay has significantly changed each of their lives. It solidified Lilly’s relationship with her estranged mother. Danae found a loving relationship she can count on, Lucas, who began by cosplaying primarily male characters, found a stage where he could safely perform the masculine identity he felt inside his previously female body. But neither, of course, does that capture it all.
Thankfully the reasons why cosplay speaks to certain people and why it spoke to these individuals in particular is beautifully unboxable. What is evident is that it has become an important part of their lives and at the end of the day it’s just play, it’s fun, and it comes with an arms-wide-open community. And, like other geeky pastimes, that’s why they’re into it.
As cool as the costumes are, the personal stories are certainly the strongest part of the film, especially the focus on the families and friends who support the main characters’s cosplay. However, while Laner is a green documentary director, and there are a few moments where this is evident, the less stylized approach he takes in My Other Me is perfect for the topic.
The film really digs in, sometimes getting too personal even for the subjects, like the questioning of Danae’s cosplaying best friend Mana about his gender identity. But this directness and probing also led to some of the most interesting notes in the film – how cosplay allows marginalized individuals or social outcasts to perform the identities they yearn to make real for themselves.
Tackling transgender identity, non-traditional families, and LGBTQ love, My Other Me is a unique look at a world of wigs, masks, and cardboard swords and how outsiders find a home in the geeky community of costume cons.
Check out some of the footage from an earlier trailer that didn’t make it into the film… More costumes!